There is a lot of wisdom in this edition of “Fury”–VIDA’s advice column for concerned writers. In #15, Grateful VIDA-Lovin’ Lady complains about how her MFA program didn’t prepare her for the real world. I could sort of relate. We go to school hoping we’ll be a bit more prepared to be a writer, and that means, have insight into how to publish. Sometimes it seems like people are leaving us out so we won’t be successful (*seems* being the operative word here). Teachers are often hesitant to give details about this, and though the article guesses this is because teachers don’t want to be discouraging, I also think it’s because publishing has changed an awful lot since the early 90s, when many (most of my) professors were getting their MFAs. The writer complaining about her MFA program says she’s ditched writing poetry for Children’s books, and she expresses a lot of bitterness towards her program for not better bolstering her poetry career.
…complain about them all you want … populate forums with alarming anecdotes about your lazy teachers, but don’t stop writing. If you can give up writing poetry that easily, it was never going to be the thing you ended up doing. Writers write because they feel they must, not because they did or didn’t get a degree. Because poetry doesn’t need a time out; your feelings of resentment and frustration do! Just because you feel bitter about having wasted your time at a shitty MFA program, don’t take it out on the thing you love.
What a great reminder. I mean, why did we get degrees in the first place?
Here’s the thing about breaking into writing as a profession: there is not one path. Listen to interviews (Bookworms, especially), and you won’t hear the same story about how writers broke through. I asked each of my professors something about the writing profession and got widely different responses. Why? Because, again, there is not one path.
A huge part of being a writer, and I’ve probably said this before, is figuring out what you have control over and doing your best with that small portion of your career. Trust me, that small portion is a lot of work. Writing grants, submitting stories, working to pay for writing conferences, etc. Also, consistently trying to improve our craft.
Write your best, keep growing, and keep seeking. Maybe I’m too much of a mystic, but I think that if we put forth the effort, our work will find a way to reach people.
The Fury writer (response from VIDA) was correct in naming luck, talent, and perseverance as the magic ingredients for a writing-success-cocktail. If you are thinking of getting an MFA, remember that nobody is going to persevere for you. Nobody is obligated to make you famous or show you how to be famous. If we approach our writing and careers generously, we will probably have a better chance at laying out a path to publishing. Bitterness is probably the thing I’ve seen kill most writers. Not a realization or feeling that they aren’t good enough, but a feeling that someone else didn’t hold up their end of the bargain.
Here’s what bitterness is: feeling bad because you didn’t get something you feel entitled to.
Here’s the way to avoid bitterness: Feel entitled to nothing.
Understand that if you’re writing because you feel entitled to have the world acknowledge your words, chances are, you’re probably not writing anything the world really needs. Write because you want to contribute to a conversation.